“Sasha, you’re working too much. It’s your sister’s birthday. You have to at least show up.”
Peggy was doing everything she could to get me to go to Hidden Springs for Lydia’s big birthday bash. Lydia was now the lead ballerina in the Hidden Springs Dance Company. The party was one of those black-tie things that I imagined myself being very uncomfortable at if I’d ever been invited to one.
“I’ll be there, Pegs. I promised Dad.”
“Well, good. We haven’t seen each other in way too long. Who knew we’d have to travel to Hidden Springs just to catch up!”
“I’m not the only one who focuses on her work, you know.”
Peggy laughed. “Oh, I know. Ian reminds me daily that I am not to talk politics outside of the office. Not like he’s much better. He’s still such a computer nerd!”
Peggy and Ian had gotten married the summer before. It was a small ceremony with just family. Then they’d moved to Sunset Valley where Ian was working for Laandgrab Technologies and Peggy was starting as an intern for the mayor. She told me that she’d be mayor someday, too, just like our grandmother Lila. “And maybe I’ll be President,” she added. “Grandma only got to governor!”
I may not have as much ambition as my cousin or talent as my sister, but I had finally found my calling in life. Bruno had been right, I was very good at being a Private Investigator. I had a knack for finding things out.
My cases started small. I proved to Bruno that I was a decent hacker, so that’s what I did most. Then he had me do some snooping.
“Just dig around a little. But don’t get caught,” he warned me.
Then Bruno taught me how to conduct stakeouts. “Make like a tree, girl,” he advised. “Just stand there and think ‘shrubbery’ and your quarry won’t even know you’re there.” Well, it was more complicated than that, but I managed the art of covert surveillance.
“Now I think you’re ready,” Bruno told me one day after a particularly complicated case involving a poodle, some tainted dog-biscuits and a blackmailer.
“Ready for what?” I asked.
“For some police work, of course.”
I nearly choked. “P-police work?”
“Yeah. Low-level. Got to make nice with the guys in blue. They often have the most interesting leads.”
“Bb..but…”I sputtered. The last thing I wanted to do was work with the police. Too many people knew what a failure I was there—my cousin Brenton, my dad, Bull! Linc! I had no desire to run into Linc. It would be utterly humiliating. I hadn’t heard from him since he’d broken up with me. I refused to even ask my dad about him.
“You actually have it easy, girl. Your daddy is the deputy chief of police. You have an in where I had to scrape my way up from the bottom.”
“I don’t think Daddy would like me trading on his position.”
“Nothin’ doin’. Just go make nice with the rest of them. They’ll remember you’re daddy’s little girl and tell you things.”
“But they hate me. I got Bull shot.”
“Nonsense. That woman is as tough as nails. ‘Sides, she retired. Went off to Riverview or somewhere to work with some 007 nut-job who runs a security firm.”
“Oh. I didn’t know that. But what about my cousin and Linc? Don’t you think that would be sort of…awkward?”
“Your cousin? That boy is just about to make detective. He’d be a perfect contact. And that other one…your boyfriend…”
“Whatever. I heard he transferred.”
I hadn’t known. Later, I wheedled the information out of Brenton.
“Yeah, cuz. Linc left soon after you broke up. He said that it was too hard working with your dad. Seems the chief wouldn’t let him off the night-shift and kept working him doubles. Your dad was a little upset that Lincoln had hurt his precious little princess.”
“That’s not fair!” I felt badly for Linc, but sort of happy that Daddy had made him miserable.
“Where’d he transfer to?”
“Last I heard, he headed into the city. Bridgeport always needs cops. Things are getting out of hand over there. Some new vampire took over. Malcolm Kendrick got bored running his crazy mom’s evil empire. He’s gone to ground somewhere and no one can find him. So as you can imagine, there’s all kinds of shit going down in Bridgeport. Makes a guy grateful that he only has to worry about the crimes in Twinbrook, eh? Give me a sleepy suburb any day!”
“And what about you,” Brenton continued. “I heard that you’ve been working with Bruno Cavelli. He’s got you doing all his grunt work for that PI business.”
“I’m learning the business from him, yeah. He wants me to be a partner someday. He says he can’t just retire and leave it to no one.”
“He’s actually a pretty good PI. We use him as a consultant on several jobs. I heard he was getting sick, though. That’s why he needed a partner.”
I shrugged. Bruno never confided his personal life in me. I’d been working for him long enough to have picked up a few hints of things, though.
The guy had started losing weight from the time I’d met him. I figured it was because he quit drinking cold turkey, but that wouldn’t completely account for it. He also carried a handkerchief around with him and would cough into it. At first I thought this might be an affectation, but I suspect otherwise now.
Bruno was sick. I’d done some snooping into the company computers. It took time, and I’m not sure if I was successful at keeping the activity from Bruno, but he never said anything to me. What I found was that Bruno had lung cancer. It was treatable, but every time they tried something, the cancer eventually came back.
I didn’t know how much time Bruno had. If they found a good treatment, he could live longer than me. If not, well, then he could die tomorrow. I decided I wasn’t going to let it bother me.
But that was harder than it seemed to be. Bruno and I worked together so much, it was sort of inevitable that we start spending more time together outside of work.
“Listen, come over to my place and have dinner,” I insisted after one of our longer stakeouts. “I can make food that’s a lot more healthy than donuts and stale coffee.”
Bruno was reluctant to agree to “fraternize” with an employee, as he called it, but I think he was just as lonely as I was, so he did agree.
I had just moved into my own place. It was nothing special, but I was proud of it.
“Here’s a salad,” I handed one of my autumn salads to Bruno who looked at it and sighed. “I hate rabbit food.”
“It’s good for you.” I sat down a plate of left-over pancake breakfast for myself.
“Hey, why’d you get the pancakes?”
“I don’t need to eat that healthy,” I swirled my pancake in a pool of syrup. “I’m young and I couldn’t gain weight if I tried. You call me twiggy, all the time.”
“Just wait until your health catches up with you, girl.” Bruno mumbled, digging into the crisp greens on his plate.
Dinner at my place became sort of a norm. We usually ended the evening with the best two out of three games of chess. While we’d play, we discussed the business. I had plans of making a bigger operation of it. I wanted to hire new people. Start a larger website. Modernize things a bit.
“Nothin’ doin’ girl. This ain’t your business. I like things how they are.”
“But we could do so much more!” I whined. “We’d be pulling in the huge cases. No more petty consultations for the police. Everyone would seek our services.”
“You’re too ambitious.”
“You like that about me.”
“Checkmate.” Bruno said, dropping my king. Once again he demonstrated how I often thought too big and forgot the smaller game going on around me.
My sister’s party was exactly as uncomfortable as I thought it would be. I felt like an idiot dressed up in someone else’s clothes. People were dancing all around, and it was obvious that they were trained dancers. I refused to get out on the floor. I was willing to suffer being introduced as Lydia Field’s sister, but I absolutely would not humiliate myself by showing how inept I actually was in comparison to her.
Peggy and Ian had no problem dancing together. They were disgustingly wrapped up in themselves and it was easy to see why. Peggy’s hand kept straying to her belly and Ian’s would follow. They had that love-struck look of people who were going to be new parents.
“Are you having fun, Sasha?” Lydia swooped up behind me, nearly scaring me witless.
“Do I look like I’m having fun?”
“No. That’s the problem. This is a party. Stop spying on everyone and get something to drink. Go dance. Go mingle.”
“I’ll leave mingling to you. It’s your day. I can’t believe you announced your engagement on your birthday!”
Lydia and Austin, her long-time partner, had finally admitted to the public that they were an item. They were everyone’s sweetheart couple in the ballet world. Now, they were dazzling everyone with their latest announcement.
“When will the wedding be?” I asked. Lydia and Austin had played coy with that information for the reporters. I wondered if she’d tell me.
“Oh, sooner than later. It will be a small ceremony.”
“Like Peggy and Ian? Just family?”
“No. Like just us…and maybe you? Would you be a witness for us?”
I don’t think I have ever been more shocked. Nothing much surprises me anymore. I pride myself in the training that I have gotten through Bruno. I can usually observe and predict what is going to happen in most situations. But I couldn’t have predicted this.
“You and Austin are going to elope? And disappoint all of these fans from the dream wedding complete with a ballet performance of wedding scene from Swan Lake?”
Lydia gave me a soft smile. Her eyes got all dreamy and I caught her hand drifting to her stomach.
“Oh, no. You’re pregnant,” I whispered.
“Shhh. It’s a secret. No one knows.”
“No shit! Is that why you’re getting married, then? To stop the gossip or something like that?”
“No! No! It’s not like that. Austin and I have been in love. We were going to do the huge production, but now…well…now we can’t. And we don’t even want a hint that we had to get married. The paparazzi would love that!”
“They’re going to love that anyway. You can’t keep this a secret Lydia. You’ll start to show soon enough.”
“I know. I am going to announce my retirement after the wedding. Austin is going to keep dancing.”
“Yeah. So, will you do it? Help us elope?”
“Sure. Are we going tonight?”
“That’s a little extreme, don’t you think,” Lydia gave me a shocked look, but I was perfectly serious.
“Well, if you are going to do it, let’s do it right. No one would ever suspect. The longer you wait, the more chance of being found out you have.”
“O-okay. Should we tell Dad?”
“No. Dad and Daddy wouldn’t be able to keep it a secret. Daddy would cry. Dad would get all choked up. Besides, look at them. They’re having a great time.”
My dads. Looking at them individually, you would never guess that they are the two sappiest romantics in the world. If Ian and Peggy are disgusting to watch together, then my dads are positively nauseating. They kiss, hug and touch constantly. Dad says that their love life improved dramatically since I moved out.
“T.M.I., Dad! T.M.I!” I covered my ears when he dropped that bomb on me.
“What? We’re getting older, we’re not dead!”
“Yeah, but I don’t want to know what you guys do when you’re alone.”
“It’s not what we do…it’s where we do it and when,” Dad smirked at me.
Everyone in my family seemed to be coupled up and happy except me. Ian and Peggy announced their pregnancy and were excitedly preparing for their new baby. Lydia and Austin’s elopement hit the papers right after Lydia’s birthday. (I will admit to leaking the information. I thought it would keep the paparazzi from finding out about their baby too soon.) Even my slutty cousin Brenton, who’d slept with half of the single women in Twinbrook, was settling down! He’d fallen for the girl who cleaned his house for him. She was a sweet, mousy thing, not at all the type he used to date. I was shocked when he introduced me to her.
When I had a chance to talk to her privately, I blurted, “But you could have done so much better!” Maria, Brenton’s maid, laughed and I decided I liked her.
“I like fixing things,” she said. “I know that’s not a good reason to date someone, but Brenton is really great. He just needs a little polish.” I agreed, and Maria seemed up to the challenge of my cousin.
“I bet my aunt really likes you,” I said. Maria smiled. “Dr. Fields is the one who got me the job with your cousin.”
Instead of dwelling on my pathetic, dateless status, I threw myself into my work. I told myself that I was too busy to date anyone. I worked too much to meet any single men. Leave it to Bruno to expose that little lie.
“Girl, you need to go out more.”
“’Cause your idea of a Saturday night of fun is making salad for me and losing at chess.”
“I don’t lose all the time!”
Bruno laughed. But then he got serious. “Look, you don’t want to spend all your time with this old man. You are young. You should be out with some young buck doin’ the nasty at every turn.”
“Ew! We are not having this conversation!”
“Seriously, how long has it been for you?”
“None of your business!”
“Bet you haven’t had any since that Lincoln boy.”
“I can’t believe we are talking about this. My sex life or lack of one is not your concern.”
I busied myself doing the dishes and Bruno left me alone. When I finished, he was playing chess by himself. I joined him.
“I’m just sayin’ that you shouldn’t let this job be your life.”
“I’m not. Just because I don’t go on dates all the time, doesn’t mean I am working too hard.”
“Nah. I think you work too hard to avoid the dates, not the other way around.” God, I hated how astute Bruno always was. Of course he was right.
“Girl, you don’t want to be like me. I’m a dying old man with a business. I never got married. I never had family. I hardly had friends. And now it’s too late to have any of those things.” Bruno moved his bishop to put me in check. He didn’t announce it.
I just stared at him. It was the first time he’d admitted he was sick to me…in fact, he was so sick that he was dying. He looked at me; his eyes were hard, but kind. He knew I knew about his cancer.
“You’re not alone,” I mumbled, moving my king out of danger.
“I got you, girl.” Bruno moved his queen. “But who do you got? Checkmate.”
Dating sucks. I had taken Bruno’s words to heart, but I wish I hadn’t. It wasn’t easy to find guys to go out with in Twinbrook. I worked an odd job with no co-workers, so it wasn’t like I was meeting people at work. Clients were absolutely off-limits. So that left meeting guys in bars or being set up with guys by my friends and family.
My sister was the first person to do it. “You remember Martin Mole from school, right? He’s my grade?” I didn’t, but Lydia showed me his picture in her yearbook.
“He’s a performer now,” she explained. “I met him in Hidden Springs, but he’s coming back to Twinbrook. I gave him your number. You should take him around so that he gets reacquainted with the town.”
“Things haven’t changed that much, Lydia,” I said.
“Oh I know, but it’d be fun for both of you.” It wasn’t. Turns out that Martin Mole wasn’t just any old performer…he was a mime. I hate mimes. I don’t know why mimes are so popular here in Twinbrook, but ever since I did that story on them back when I was a reporter, I’d always hated them.
My dads set me up with the next guy. “His name is Henry Klingback. He’s a fireman,” Dad told me.
“He’s a fireman and he needs you to set him up with girls? What’s wrong with him?”
“Nothing! Sasha, don’t be so skeptical. He just works a lot. There aren’t many women in firefighting, and he doesn’t really enjoy the bar scene.” I nodded. I could understand all of those reasons.
“Ok, fine. Set it up.”
Henry was a nice enough guy. He was strong, good looking, brave. He reminded me of my dad…too much. We went out a few times, but I think we both realized there was no chemistry there. Eventually, we stopped going out and used our busy work lives as an excuse.
The guys at the police station set me up with my last blind date. My cousin arranged the whole thing. I should have known it wasn’t going to work out right then.
“He’s great,” Brenton told me. “He consults for us, just like you.”
“Is he a PI, too?”
“No, but he helps us out from time to time. I think you’ll like him.”
“You evaded…what aren’t you telling me?”
“Nothing. Just meet him, Sasha. You can go out with me and Maria. We’ll double.”
Mason Vince was the guy’s name. He shook my hand firmly when we met. I liked that about him. He didn’t treat me like some girly-girl. “So your cousin says you’re a PI,” he asked almost immediately. “Tell me about your most interesting case.”
The date went really well. My cousin and Maria hardly ever spoke. Mason asked a lot of questions and seemed genuinely interested in my answers. He didn’t even seem like he was trying to impress me or suck up to me. I found myself really talking to him, and I liked what he had to say.
When we left, Brenton whispered in my ear, “See, I knew you’d hit it off.”
“Thanks, cuz,” I whispered back.
Brenton took Maria home, but Mason didn’t want to end the date. “Let’s walk to the park,” he said. “We can watch the stars.”
We continued to talk at the park. This time I tried to find out more about Mason. I’d monopolized the conversation at dinner, I realized.
“I’m not that interesting,” Mason told me. “I had a pretty boring life.” I found out a few details, but he didn’t really reveal much. Then he walked me home, kissed me on the cheek before leaving me at my door.
It wasn’t until the next day, when I was having breakfast with my dads, that I found out why Mason Vince hadn’t been too forthcoming with his personal details.
“You went out with who!?” Daddy exclaimed when I was telling them how much fun I had.
“Mason Vince, why?”
“Who’s Mason Vince?” Dad asked.
“He’s a consultant for the cops,” I said. “Brenton set me up with him. I thought you knew about it,” I said to Daddy.
“No, I did not know! And he’s no consultant!”
“But Brenton said…”
“Brenton is an idiot. Mason Vince is a former thief. The only thing he’s consulted about is other criminals.”
“Mason was a thief?”
“Yes. He was a very prolific cat-burglar. Then he was caught and incarcerated. Now he runs a so-called security business to prevent other thieves like him from stealing from people.”
“So he is a consultant?” Dad asked, confused like I was.
“Once a thief, always a thief,” Daddy said.
When Mason called me up that same night, I was a bit cold to him. I was confused. I’d had a good time with him, but he hadn’t told me about himself. I didn’t know if I agreed with Daddy that Mason was still a criminal, but I wasn’t sure if I could go out with someone who’d once thought it was ok to steal from people.
Unfortunately, even though I tried to look past Mason’s former profession, I really couldn’t let it go. We went out a few more times, but eventually I had to let him know that I just didn’t have feelings for him.
“I’m done dating,” I told Bruno over our nightly chess match. “I know you said that I shouldn’t be alone, but maybe that’s just my destiny.”
Bruno just scoffed at me. “No such thing as destiny. You think it’s destiny that I have this stupid disease killing me slowly every day?”
“You’re too stubborn to die,” I joked lamely.
“No girl. Don’t go thinking that. Everyone dies. My time is coming soon.”
“Maybe you’re the only guy for me,” I said. “Once you’re gone, I’ll never love again.”
“Lord, you’re dramatic!”Bruno laughed at me. “We both know I ain’t no one’s love. But I am glad you’re here with me. Best thing I ever did, hiring you.”
“Thanks Boss,” I said, smiling sadly. “And that’s checkmate,” I added.
“Good job, girl,” Bruno clapped a bit in praise of one of my rare victories over him. That night he hugged me before he left.
“Don’t worry ‘bout the future. You’ll be fine. Just don’t close yourself off from the world.”
“I won’t,” I agreed.
That night Bruno died in his sleep. The cancer finally caught up with him.
**Author’s Note** Thank you so much for reading this. I know that it has been nearly a year. My game was singularly uncooperative up until my husband, who is brilliant, got the idea that I should try playing on his laptop. What a difference that made! Now I’m playing with no mods except a few that don’t change the Core of the game. I’ve had to switch towns, too. So I only had Linc, Lydia, Sasha, and Austin to work with. Any pictures with other characters came from previous game sessions. This lack of pictures is why some places in this particular update are text heavy. Sorry about that.
On a positive note, I will be putting up a new update in a few days! Yes, I said days. And I promise that those days won’t turn into weeks or months.